EPIC in Court to Protect Pacific Fishers

Tom Wheeler, EPIC Executive Director

Fisher. Source: Pekania pennanti, Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

On September 13, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), Center for Biological Diversity and Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for denying endangered species protection to West Coast fishers. Fishers are relatives of mink, otters and wolverines and live in old-growth forests. The Service had previously determined that fishers warranted protection across the West Coast, but in 2020 reversed course and only protected them in the southern Sierra Nevada. 

Fur trapping took a toll on fisher populations but was largely banned by the 1950s. Extensive logging of the majority of forests along the West Coast has kept the animals from recovering. Now climate change and rodenticides used by marijuana growers leave them even more imperiled.

“I’m deeply concerned about the survival of the mysterious fisher and the old-growth forests it calls home,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “These tenacious animals can eat porcupines, but they can’t survive the damage we’re doing to their forests. Fishers needed Endangered Species Act protection 20 years ago, and they need it even more today.”

EPIC and allies first petitioned the Service to grant West Coast fishers endangered species protection in 2000, leading to a 2004 determination by the agency that the fisher should be listed as threatened throughout its West Coast range. Rather than provide this protection the Service delayed, arguing there was a lack of resources. The agency reaffirmed the fisher’s imperilment in annual reviews through 2016, when it abruptly reversed course and denied protection. After the groups successfully challenged that decision, it granted protections to fishers in the southern Sierra Nevada but nowhere else.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has a legal obligation to list species at threat of extinction but politics too often intervenes,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director at the Environmental Protection Information Center. “For twenty years, the Service has employed every trick to avoid listing the fisher. We are in court because enough is enough.”

Fishers once roamed forests from British Columbia to Southern California but now are limited to two native populations in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, plus others in northern California and southwestern Oregon. There are also small, reintroduced populations in the central Sierra Nevada, in the southern Oregon Cascades, and in the Olympic Peninsula, Mt. Rainier and the North Cascades in Washington state. The northern California-southwestern Oregon population is the largest remaining one, but is severely threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation caused by logging and high-severity fire.

Environmental Groups Oppose 

PG&E’s Proposed Spraying

On September 29, 2022, PG&E alerted Humboldt County that it was going to spray herbicides along its easements across the region. PG&E failed to alert landowners or tenants of this new threat; instead, local news broke the story just two days before spraying was set to commence. As of October 3, it appears that PG&E has postponed spraying and is requiring individuals to opt-in to the program. Many important details are still missing or are evidently still in flux.

We, like you, are alarmed by PG&E’s proposed herbicide spraying. The toxicants employed have a clearly established relationship with increased risk of disease, including cancer, and some have been banned in other countries as a result. Herbicide application is slated to start concurrent with the defined “wet period” in Humboldt County, risking runoff into adjacent streams. Humboldt County’s organic and cannabis farms are particularly at risk from spray drift, as even trace amounts of herbicides can ruin an entire year’s crop. Spray along roadsides places road users, particularly walkers and bikers, at risk and may contaminate wild-harvested foods, like berries, which can be picked from roadsides throughout the county. For these reasons and more, herbicide application has long been controversial in Humboldt County.

EPIC and our allies oppose herbicide application without the express permission of landowners, their tenants and adjacent landowners where there is risk of spray drift, and without measures to protect users of public streets and roads.

We are at work to correct this situation and to reform larger processes to prevent similar incidents in the future. State law limits local jurisdictions ability to regulate herbicide application, however, we call on the Board of Supervisors to adopt a formal policy outlining its position regarding herbicide application. If you are concerned about herbicide application on your property, please contact PG&E at 1-800-564-5080 and email at treesafety@pge.com.